The Common Good
September-October 2013

What About the Women?

by Carol Keehan | September-October 2013

Pope Francis is clearly on a mission to alter the status quo, but will that extend to greater freedom for women's leadership in the church?

POPE FRANCIS HAS created a new environment in the church. Beginning with asking all the people in St. Peter’s Square to bless him, living in a humble apartment and not the papal palace, placing his own phone calls, paying his own bills, giving simple daily homilies, having conversations with many people, and joyfully mingling with people: These all characterize an incredibly different pope. What has been even more attractive about Pope Francis than his style has been what he has said.

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Pope Francis is clearly not on a mission to preserve the status quo. He’s been outspoken about the need for change in the world and in the church. In this he has not been a “professional denouncer.” Rather, he always contrasts what needs to change with the opportunity to be so much more than we are now. Whether it is oppressive global economic policy or clerical ambition, Pope Francis points out that we are called to something more noble and satisfying. The call of Christ is to be our best self. Francis reminds us, “God always forgives. Don’t forget this. God always forgives.”

Another striking aspect of Pope Francis is his constant and passionate concern for people who are poor and vulnerable and his reminder of our responsibilities to them. Whether he is talking to world leaders, bishops, or general audiences, his love of poor people and his firsthand knowledge of their challenges and how we should respond is profound.

HOW THIS PAPACY will handle what are generally labeled “women’s issues” and the ability of women to fully utilize their talents in the church has yet to unfold. Many are prayerfully watching how he will deal with issues such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious investigation, the role of women in the church, both lay and religious, and women in leadership.

We know that guiding all the consideration of these issues is a holy man who is transparent and humble and believes in a servant church. He is a man who listens and values service to the church and to the vulnerable. Lay and religious women have nothing to fear—and much to look forward to—in this papacy. Pope Francis has shown that he is not about condemnation and secrecy. “Dear brothers and sisters,” he has said, “let us look to God as the God of life, let us look to [God’s] law, to the gospel message, as the way to freedom and life. The living God sets us free! Let us say ‘yes’ to love and not selfishness. Let us say ‘yes’ to life and not death. Let us say ‘yes’ to freedom and not enslavement to the many idols of our time.”

This kind of openness based on the gospels, combined with a pastoral heart and transparency, promises the opportunity for women to search together with the church for the will of God in any situation or question with confidence that the will of God is the only agenda.

Sister Carol Keehan, DC, is president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States and a member of Sojourners’ board.

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